Goodwin v. State, No. 93

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Florida
Writing for the CourtPARIENTE, J.
Citation751 So.2d 537
PartiesDavid GOODWIN, Petitioner, v. STATE of Florida, Respondent. Herbert Jones, Petitioner, v. State of Florida, Respondent.
Decision Date16 December 1999
Docket Number No. 93, No. 491, No. 805.

751 So.2d 537

David GOODWIN, Petitioner,
v.
STATE of Florida, Respondent.
Herbert Jones, Petitioner,
v.
State of Florida, Respondent

Nos. 93,491, 93,805.

Supreme Court of Florida.

December 16, 1999.

Rehearing Denied February 14, 2000.


Richard L. Jorandby, Public Defender, and Tatjana Ostapoff, Assistant Public Defender,

751 So.2d 538
Fifteenth Judicial Circuit, West Palm Beach, Florida; and Nancy A. Daniels, Public Defender, and Paula S. Saunders, Assistant Public Defender, Second Judicial Circuit, Tallahassee, Florida, for Petitioners

Robert A. Butterworth, Attorney General, Celia A. Terenzio, Assistant Attorney General, Chief, and Melynda L. Melear, Assistant Attorney General, West Palm Beach, Florida; and James W. Rogers, Tallahassee Bureau Chief, and Carolyn M. Snurkowski and Denise O. Simpson, Assistant Attorneys General, Tallahassee, Florida, for Respondents.

PARIENTE, J.

We consolidate these cases because the Fourth District in Goodwin v. State, 721 So.2d 728, 731 (Fla. 4th DCA 1998), and the First District in Jones v. State, 715 So.2d 378, 378 (Fla. 1st DCA 1998), both certified the following question as one of great public importance:

IN APPEALS WHICH DO NOT INVOLVE CONSTITUTIONAL ERROR, DOES THE ENACTMENT OF SECTION 924.051(7), FLORIDA STATUTES, ABROGATE THE HARMLESS ERROR ANALYSIS ANNOUNCED IN [State v. DiGuilio], 491 So.2d 1129 (Fla.1986)?

We have jurisdiction. See art. V, § 3(b)(4), Fla. Const. For the reasons expressed below, we answer the certified question in the negative.

FACTS

We first briefly review the facts of both cases. In Goodwin, the prosecuting attorney erred by eliciting improper "bad neighborhood" testimony from one of the arresting officers that he targets "areas that are known for street level drug sales" and "tries to make buys from street level dealers." 721 So.2d at 728. The trial court sustained defense counsel's objection to the testimony and gave a curative instruction for the jury to disregard the comment. See id. The trial court reserved ruling on the defendant's motion for a mistrial until after trial, at which time it was denied. See id.

On appeal, the Fourth District held that this type of "bad neighborhood" testimony was not a "constitutional error" to which this Court's decision in DiGuilio applied. Id. Instead, the Fourth District found that the defendant had failed to meet his burden of demonstrating "prejudicial error" pursuant to section 924.051(7), Florida Statutes (1996). Goodwin, 721 So.2d at 729.

In Jones, the trial court allowed the introduction of collateral crimes evidence over the defendant's timely objection. The First District affirmed based on section 924.051(7), but certified the identical question as in Goodwin for this Court's review. Jones, 715 So.2d at 378.

ANALYSIS

The subject of the certified questions, section 924.051(7), provides:

In a direct appeal or a collateral proceeding, the party challenging the judgment or order of the trial court has the burden of demonstrating that prejudicial error occurred in the trial court. A conviction or sentence may not be reversed absent an express finding that a prejudicial error occurred in the trial court.

Section 924.051(1)(a) defines "prejudicial error" as "an error in the trial court that harmfully affected the judgment or sentence." Notably, section 924.051(7) does not distinguish between constitutional and nonconstitutional error.

The certified question raises important issues concerning the role of the appellate courts in ensuring that criminal trials are free of harmful error, an essential judicial function that serves to protect a defendant's constitutional right to a fair trial. By limiting the certified question to appeals that do not involve "constitutional error," a term not utilized in the statute, the First and Fourth Districts acknowledged

751 So.2d 539
that in cases of constitutional error, state appellate courts are bound to apply the harmless error standard enunciated in Chapman v. California, 386 U.S. 18, 87 S.Ct. 824, 17 L.Ed.2d 705 (1967), and followed by this Court in DiGuilio. The State concedes this as well. In fact, the State contends that section 924.051(7) merely reaffirms existing standards of review. In order to test the validity of the State's position, we deem it appropriate to trace the evolution of the harmless error standard for review of criminal convictions

In the early history of the United States justice system, appellate courts routinely reversed convictions for almost every error committed during trial. See Roger Traynor, The Riddle of Harmless Error 13 (1970). The threat of reversal was so great that appellate courts came to be described as "impregnable citadels of technicality." Kotteakos v. United States, 328 U.S. 750, 759, 66 S.Ct. 1239, 90 L.Ed. 1557 (1946) (quoting Marcus A. Kavanaugh, Improvement of Administration of Criminal Justice by Exercise of Judicial Power, 11 A.B.A.J. 217, 222 (1925)).

Dissatisfied with automatic reversals based on "technical errors," described by Justice Frankfurter as ones concerned with the "mere etiquette of trials and with the formalities and minutiae of procedure," Bruno v. United States, 308 U.S. 287, 294, 60 S.Ct. 198, 84 L.Ed. 257 (1939), the great legal scholars of the day, including Taft, Wigmore, Pound and Hadley, sought the enactment of harmless error statutes in order to

substitute judgment for automatic application of rules; to preserve a check upon arbitrary action and essential unfairness in trials, but at the same time to make the process perform that function without giving men fairly convicted the multiplicity of loopholes which any highly and minutely detailed scheme of errors, especially in relation to procedure, will engender and reflect in a printed record.

Kotteakos, 328 U.S. at 760, 66 S.Ct. 1239.

Thus, the first federal harmless error statute, Act of February 26, 1919, ch. 48, 40 Stat. 1181, provided that reversal could not be based on errors "which [did] not affect the substantial rights of the parties." The goal of the statute was to prevent reversal based on mere "technical" errors at trial. See Kotteakos, 328 U.S. at 758-59, 66 S.Ct. 1239. This statute is strikingly similar to one of the other harmless error statutes in Florida, section 924.33, which provides that "[n]o judgment shall be reversed unless the appellate court is of the opinion ... that error was committed that injuriously affected the substantial rights of the appellant."1

Writing for the Court, Justice Rutledge cautioned in Kotteakos that, while the distinction between "technical errors" and errors affecting "substantial rights" was an easy one to require, the actual application of the distinction to a given case was more difficult. 328 U.S. at 761, 66 S.Ct. 1239. We agree that the "discrimination it requires is one of judgment transcending confinement by formula or precise rule," id., especially considering that "what may seem technical may embody a great tradition of justice." Id.

In Kotteakos, the Supreme Court enunciated the analysis to be applied by federal appellate courts in cases other than those involving departures from constitutional norms:

If, when all is said and done, the conviction is sure that the error did not influence the jury, or had but very slight effect, the verdict and the judgment should stand, except perhaps where the departure is from a constitutional norm.... But if one cannot say, with fair assurance, after pondering all that happened without stripping that erroneous
751 So.2d 540
action from the whole, that the judgment was not substantially swayed by the error, it is impossible to conclude that substantial rights were not affected. The inquiry cannot be merely whether there was enough to support the result, apart from the phase affected by the error. It is rather, even so, whether the error itself had substantial influence. If so, or if one is left in grave doubt, the conviction cannot stand.

Id. at 764-65, 328 U.S. 750 (emphasis supplied). Thus, the test for reversal established in Kotteakos requires the appellate court to determine whether the error had a "substantial influence" on the verdict, or whether the court is left with "grave doubt" as to its influence. Id. If the court cannot say with "fair assurance" that the error had no substantial effect on the verdict, reversal is required under this standard because it is "impossible to conclude that substantial rights were not affected." Kotteakos, 328 U.S. at 764-65, 66 S.Ct. 1239.

Despite developing its first harmless error analysis, the Supreme Court suggested in the Kotteakos opinion that constitutional error would continue to require automatic reversal, without regard to the error's effect on the verdict. See id. Twenty years later, in Chapman v. California, the Court reconsidered that assumption. 386 U.S. at 22, 87 S.Ct. 824.

In Chapman, the Court concluded that some constitutional errors could be considered harmless. Id. The Court struck down the California Supreme Court's application of the harmless error provision found in the California Constitution, which forbade reversal "unless `the court shall be of the opinion that the error complained of has resulted in a miscarriage of justice.'" Id. at 20, 87 S.Ct. 824 (quoting Cal. Const. art. VI, § 4½ (1914)).2

The error complained of in Chapman was an improper comment on the defendants' exercise of their right not to testify against themselves in a criminal proceeding. The Supreme Court concluded that this error intruded on the constitutional protections of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments and that it was therefore the Court's responsibility to protect these rights by reviewing the error independently. Recognizing that their prior cases indicated that "there are some constitutional rights so basic to a fair trial that their infraction can never be treated as harmless error," the Court ultimately concluded that "before a federal constitutional error can be held...

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293 practice notes
  • Rimmer v. State, No. SC95318.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Florida
    • 3 Julio 2002
    ...harmful." Id. at 1139. We recently reaffirmed these important principles regarding a harmless error analysis in Goodwin v. State, 751 So.2d 537 In this case, the focus of the defense was one of misidentification and specifically that Rimmer required eyeglasses to see and to operate a motor ......
  • Childers v. State, No. 1D03-2154.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of Florida (US)
    • 2 Febrero 2006
    ...the overall strength of the case and the defenses asserted, that the verdict could not have been affected by the error. Goodwin v. State, 751 So.2d 537, 545 (Fla. 1999) (emphasis in original). Here, the State did assert harmless error, although its rationale differs from this concurring opi......
  • Galindez v. State, No. SC05-1341.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Florida
    • 15 Febrero 2007
    ...(stating "that once a conviction has been upheld on appeal, the State acquires a strong interest in finality"); Goodwin v. State, 751 So.2d 537, 546 (Fla.1999) ("[O]nce a conviction has been affirmed on direct appeal `a presumption of finality and legality attaches to the conviction and sen......
  • State v. Sawyer, No. 16972.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Connecticut
    • 8 Agosto 2006
    ...in the absence of the error"), cert. denied sub nom. Watson v. Teets, 355 U.S. 846, 78 S.Ct. 70, 2 L.Ed.2d 55 (1957); Goodwin v. State, 751 So.2d 537, 541 (Fla.1999) (error harmful if "court cannot say beyond a reasonable doubt that the error did not affect the verdict"); People v. Cornell,......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
294 cases
  • Rimmer v. State, No. SC95318.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Florida
    • 3 Julio 2002
    ...harmful." Id. at 1139. We recently reaffirmed these important principles regarding a harmless error analysis in Goodwin v. State, 751 So.2d 537 In this case, the focus of the defense was one of misidentification and specifically that Rimmer required eyeglasses to see and to operate a motor ......
  • Childers v. State, No. 1D03-2154.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of Florida (US)
    • 2 Febrero 2006
    ...the overall strength of the case and the defenses asserted, that the verdict could not have been affected by the error. Goodwin v. State, 751 So.2d 537, 545 (Fla. 1999) (emphasis in original). Here, the State did assert harmless error, although its rationale differs from this concurring opi......
  • Galindez v. State, No. SC05-1341.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Florida
    • 15 Febrero 2007
    ...(stating "that once a conviction has been upheld on appeal, the State acquires a strong interest in finality"); Goodwin v. State, 751 So.2d 537, 546 (Fla.1999) ("[O]nce a conviction has been affirmed on direct appeal `a presumption of finality and legality attaches to the conviction and sen......
  • State v. Sawyer, No. 16972.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Connecticut
    • 8 Agosto 2006
    ...in the absence of the error"), cert. denied sub nom. Watson v. Teets, 355 U.S. 846, 78 S.Ct. 70, 2 L.Ed.2d 55 (1957); Goodwin v. State, 751 So.2d 537, 541 (Fla.1999) (error harmful if "court cannot say beyond a reasonable doubt that the error did not affect the verdict"); People v. Cornell,......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
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